Controversy over Student Mural in Bastrop High School, Texas.
Students working on left half of the 'extremely controversial' mural in the fall of 2003.

There was a 'religion' based complaint lodged against the subject matter of this mural. Painted by a large group of high school students in 2003, I was not surprised that something like this would happen, but not five years later! Doing an artist in residence gig in Bastrop was great, especially when I think about the great kids that I got to work with and some great, open minded teachers who were very helpful. There were reasons to expect anything as I had been warned and told by several individuals; "this ain't Austin!" When I painted a mural for the main administration building I got an indication of what they meant. It's the first time I do murals with no dedication ceremony of any kind as well as some other strange criteria.

The theme of the student mural was "World Peace through Knowledge and Understanding," so when I heard that someone had a problem with it I wasn't completely surprised. It was a visitor to the school. The subject was beyond the understanding of the young people of the school and would confuse them Is what I heard. If I remember correctly, the students I worked with in 2003 were quite intelligent and I found them easy to motivate as they worked on the mural. Everything from conducting a survey to construction (building panels) to research to drawing and finally to painting. I never disallow any students from participating, some of the kids I worked with were what they call 'at risk,' a term I don't like or use myself, but those so labeled became part of the team along with a bunch of 'A & B' students. The "best" or the gifted & talented art students weren't allowed to participate, this was a first for me. There were other teachers however, who were cooperative and welcoming of the project, so I focused on working with them. They realized the full potential of the mural project. My projects go beyond the production of a visual art piece, they are designed to be a life lesson on the importance of education as well as becoming an integral part of the community, as always. My goal is to stimulate curiosity, instill pride and always exemplify respect. During this process several students confided in me that they weren't staying in school much longer and I spoke to them quite convincingly, I think, to stay and finish. Later I found out that those students actually stayed and graduated, I'm not a school counselor, maybe a street counselor? Sometimes that's the best kind.

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As with all my artist in residence gigs the students did the research after having several brainstorming sessions to decide on the subject matter and theme. We conducted a survey of the school population for their ideas. This is how I have been conducting projects since the 1970's. Asking the community what theme would be appropriate for them ensures that they assume ownership of the piece for years to come. The most requested theme was Bastrop's history, so we all researched. I personally interviewed some very interesting and wonderful elderly ladies and a gentleman. We obviously couldn't represent all world cultures, and we discussed being brief and concise. To represent world cultures we went with the great ancient civilizations of Stonehenge, China, India, America, Greece and even the ancient Assyrians. We included children of different skin colors reaching out toward the viewer, reaching for our planet and launching a dove of peace toward the world. The musical notes that run through the mural are the tune of the Bastrop High School song. Realizing I'm leaving a lot out, I'll write a detailed description of the mural in the near future, including Buddha & Shiva, who we included as cultural symbols with respect. Congrats to the Bastrop school board for voting unanimously on June 16, 2008 to keep the mural in place, as is.
Now you tell me, a positive, in school, learning experience like this has to have some merit. The ludicrous complaints and recent attention given this mural made me include it in my site at this time. There are quite a few more murals I haven't included, particularly school murals that I have done that may be included in the future, they all have their story. It's all good!